Radical Islam Explodes in Nigeria

How will Europe respond to another radical Islamist uprising in its backyard?
 At least 35 people were killed following two explosions in a crowded neighbourhood of Nigeria’s restless northeastern city of Maiduguri, a stronghold of Boko Haram Islamists.(STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
At least 35 people were killed following two explosions in a crowded neighbourhood of Nigeria’s restless northeastern city of Maiduguri, a stronghold of Boko Haram Islamists.
(STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)

More than 1,300 people have been killed in attacks by radical Islamist group Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, with 300,000 fleeing the area. More than half of these are children. The violence is on a similar scale to last year’s unrest in the Central African Republic that provoked a European military intervention.

“We are in a state of war,” Kashim Shettima said on February 17. Shettima is thegovernor of Borno state, one of the worst-hit areas. “Boko Haram are better armed and better motivated than our own troops,” he continued. “It is impossible for us to defeat the Boko Haram.”

Last May, the government declared a state of emergency in the three main affected states and formed a Joint Task Force to stop the terrorists. Although they deployed over 20,000 soldiers, the attacks continue.

Boko Haram is working with the same terrorist network that took over Northern Mali and carried out attacks in Algeria; it has links to groups like al Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgred (AQIM). The group is well armed—some worry it has access to weapons from Muammar Qadhafi’s regime in Libya. It may also be receiving weapons from the Central African Republic. Although Islamist forces are no longer in control of the country, they looted millions of weapons from the government before being forced out. They could have easily smuggled those weapons across Cameroon and into Nigeria.

The United States and the United Kingdom are assisting Nigeria, although it doesn’t seem to be doing much good. This prompted Nigeria’s information minister, Labaran Maku, to request France’s aid on February 25.

“I think what we need is international cooperation from the French, from the French-speaking West African countries to work together to deal with this problem before it becomes a major problem for France, for Western interests operating in West Africa,” Maku said. “It will devastate French interests if we allow this terror to go on.”

French President François Hollande visited the country two days later, on February 27. “Your struggle is also our struggle” Hollande said. “We will always stand ready not only to provide our political support but our help every time you need it because the struggle against terrorism is also the struggle for democracy.”

Although Nigeria was not a former French colony, France is developing a warm relationship with Africa’s most populous country. Does this mean that France and the European Union are about to launch yet another military intervention? That seems unlikely, and not only because Nigeria has not requested it.

Though dire, the situation does not directly threaten Europe’s strategic interests—at least for now. Many of Boko Haram’s targets are places like mosques, churches and schools. These attacks generate a large number of innocent causalities but aren’t really a threat to Europe.

Unlike the unrest in Mali and the Central African Republic, Boko Haram does not appear to have the power to threaten the state itself. The terrorists are strong in their home territory, but have shown little ability to target southern Nigeria and the country’s oil industry.

However, Iran controls a powerful Hezbollah-like military and political group in the country called the Islamic Movement in Nigeria. So far, it has renounced violence—should this change, however, the Islamists could threaten the stability of the state.

Nonetheless the violence in Nigeria is a warning for Europe. France is reaching the limits of what it can do, and what it can afford to do in Africa. If Europe is going to take over from the U.S. as the world’s policeman, or at least security guard for its local area, it is going to have to unify and upgrade its military. No single nation has the air-transport capacity for repeated African missions, for example. America operates over700 large transport planes. Britain, having one of Europe’s most capable militaries, operates under 50.

Part of the reason for this is temporary—Airbus is late delivering its newest transport planes, meaning old aircraft had to be retired before their replacements arrived. But it also shows the need for Europe to work together if it’s going to fill America’s shoes. Only then can it muster up anything close to the necessary logistical support.

With radical Islamist violence popping up all over North Africa, Europe is going to have to get its act together soon, or radical Islam will threaten some of its vital interests in the area.

The violence in Nigeria shows that radical Islam is becoming entrenched across the region, sustaining pockets of unrest hundreds of miles apart. Europe can no longer rely on America to fix the problem. Watch for the EU to develop its own capacity.

For more information on how Europe is confronting radical Islam across the region, read “The Whirlwind Prophecy.” ▪

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